On any given day, dozens of road bikers take to the bike paths around Mobile and the Alabama Gulf Coast, pedaling around the farmlands, along the waterways, and past the historic landmarks of this coastal region. Fun outings, to be sure, but cycling enthusiasts in Alabama should also consider a more ambitious adventure: biking the circuit of the entire 135-mile loop around historic Mobile Bay.
Pull out a road map of Mobile, and you’ll see a myriad of possibilities for a fantastic journey. What’s your pleasure: expansive views of the bay and Gulf of Mexico? Historic landmarks? Great food? A hardcore workout? Whatever your reason, there’s an option just right for you.
Here, a breakdown of what to expect on the 135-mile loop around Mobile Bay and tips for planning your two-wheeled adventure.
The circuit around Mobile Bay is a road-biking route using old county roads through farmland, along the Gulf, and past quaint seaside towns. One recommended route is to start your journey in the Port City itself, at the Fort Conde Welcome Center. From here pedal around the streets of the city and explore its historic architecture, like the recently revitalized Battle House Hotel, built in 1852, which played host to Stephen A. Douglas after he lost the 1860 election to Abraham Lincoln. You can also visit the city’s oldest cemetery, Church Street (1819), and Magnolia (1847) with their beautiful Victorian-era funerary art. And don’t forget about the city’s many fascinating museums.
Heading south from downtown, you’ll get your first glimpse of the wide Mobile Bay along County Road 163 (also called Dauphin Parkway) at McNally Park and as you cross over Dog River.
Before long, you’ll be heading to the barrier islands as you cross the 4-mile Dauphin Island Bridge to the island of the same name. Be sure to stop to soak up the spectacular view of the Gulf of Mexico with freighter ships, oyster boats, and pleasure craft plying the blue waters.
Once on Dauphin Island there is plenty to see and do. A few recommended highlights: Take a dip and catch some rays on the West End Public Beach, view hundreds of species of birds at the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, and take in the historic stone fortress, Fort Gaines, a key player in the Civil War.
From Dauphin Island, it’s time to take a break and rest your weary legs as you cross Mobile Bay with a relaxing 45-minute ride on the Mobile Bay Ferry. The ferry lands at historic Fort Morgan where the famous Civil War "Battle of Mobile Bay" was fought. Heading east on Alabama 180 you’ll have views of the bay to the north and the Gulf to the south. An inspirational place to stop and take a short hike is the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, where you’ll be treated to amazing wildflower-filled wetlands, maritime forests, and the most secluded beach on the Alabama Gulf Coast.
Continuing east, your ride will take you to the stunning white beaches of the beach towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Swinging to the north you’ll pass the Wharf, a bustling entertainment complex with great food, ziplines, and entertainment. You’ll cross the Intracoastal Waterway here on the Foley Beach Expressway Bridge.
For a fun side adventure, you can continue north on the expressway just a bit and visit the new OWA Amusement Park in Foley for some hair-raising rides before heading up the bay’s Eastern Shore on Alternate US Highway 98. Here, charming bayside towns like Magnolia Springs, Fairhope, and Daphne all make for great places to stop for the night. Insider tip: The sunsets at the Fairhope Pier that stretches out into Mobile Bay are simply breathtaking.
Nearing the end of the trek, you’ll head back to the west and cross the bay again on the Mobile Causeway (US 90/98). Be sure to leave plenty of time to visit the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center, a fascinating location to learn about the second-largest river delta in the country, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, as well as a hero of World War II, the battleship USS Alabama.
No matter what route you choose, eventually you’ll need to cross the north end of the bay. This can be the most challenging part of the trek because there are only two possible routes. On certain weekends, the Bankhead Tunnel that leads into the city is closed to traffic from 6-9 am so that walkers and cyclists can easily cross. Visit the Delta Bike Project for closing notices.
When the tunnel is closed to pedestrians and cyclists, you will need to keep pedaling north on Highway 90 past the tunnel and pedal up the Cochran Bridge. This is a very steep climb, the hardest and highest part of the trip with plenty of traffic during the week, so use plenty of caution.
Food and Lodging
The loop is loaded with great places to eat, especially fresh seafood right off the boats. A few of the notables include T.P. Crockmiers, Baudean’s, Jt’s Sunset Grill, and Sea n Suds.
You’ll definitely need a place to rest those aching calves. There are many national chain hotels along the route, as well as warm and inviting b&bs like the Original Romar House Inn in Orange Beach, Dauphin Island Harbor House, or Emma’s Bay House, located right on the bay in Fairhope.
Or, for a truly adventurous option for lodging, you can always pitch camp along the route. Recommended spots include Dauphin Island Park and Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores. In addition, you can check out the campsite at Fort Morgan, located at the ferry landing, but it must be reserved in advance.
If You Go
As always, be sure to wear your safety gear: helmets, reflective clothing, and sufficient lighting for your bike.
Alabama law requires motor vehicles to stay three feet away from bikes when passing, but be sure to use caution, especially on narrow back roads. Be courteous to drivers as they are to you.
Originally written for BCBS of AL.